Scholia Reviews ns 17 (2008) 13.

Anthony J. Spalinger, War in Ancient Egypt: The New Kingdom. Ancient World at War. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Pp. xx + 291, incl. figures and maps. ISBN 1-4051-1372-3. UK£16.99.

Sakkie Cornelius
Ancient Studies, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

During the period of the New Kingdom (ca. 1500-1100 BCE) Egypt ‘ruled the east’[[1]] and its armies marched into Canaan, but also into Kush (Nubia) in the south. Egypt developed a standing, professional army. In this book Anthony Spalinger, a well-known Egyptologist at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, introduces us to the Egyptian war machine under the ‘war pharaohs’ of dynasty 18 and the Ramesside dynasty. In the volume ‘Companion to the Ancient Near East’[[2]] he has already written a chapter on this aspect of the history Egypt.

There are other books on war in Egypt, going back to Wolf,[[3]] the relevant parts in General Yigael Yadin’s ‘Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands’,[[4]] and more recently Ian Shaw’s little book in the Shire Egyptology series,[[5]] Partridge’s ‘Fighting Pharaohs’,[[6]] and McDermott’s[[7]] well-illustrated overview, to mention only a few. Spalinger does not deal with the weapons of warfare in detail, but the focus (and therefore the strong point and the greatest contribution of the book) is on the socio-political aspects of warfare; the military classes and logistics (following the method of the German military historian Hans Delbrück, cf. p. xiii), showing how the military was organised, fed, and equipped, which made the Egyptian war machine so effective and creating a ‘world power’. The sources analysed and discussed include texts, iconography, and artefacts. Spalinger is also well acquainted with the German and even the Russian literature on the topic. Of great value to classicists are the many comparisons made, for example, to the way in which the armies of Alexander the Great were organised, again with regard to logistics.

Each chapter has an excursus (printed in grey) which gives more information on logistical matters and other issues, and deals with the important literature in which such matters are discussed, followed by notes which also include references to the literature. At the back is a general bibliography and an index (of names, but also authors and concepts such as chariots and horses).

There is a chronology taken from Baines and Málek,[[8]] three regional maps (Egypt, Nubia, and Syro-Palestine) as well as maps showing the famous battles of Megiddo and of course Kadesh. Figures (line-drawings but also black-and-white photos) provide additional information on weapons, horses, and scenes of battles (seven dealing with Kadesh). It is quite ironic that the cover depicts the boy-pharaoh Tutankh-Amen in his chariot pursuing Kushites, although he cannot compare with the great warriors Thutmoses III and Ramses II. Nevertheless, it is a representation typical of the New Kingdom (for example, fig. 12.1), although the ‘smiting’ king is older (for example, fig. 9.2).[[9]]

The book has sixteen chapters. Chapter 1, ‘Prelude to New Kingdom Warfare’ (pp. 1-31), looks at the origins of the 18th dynasty and the defeat of the Hyksos, emphasising the role of the navy in the capture of the Delta Hyksos capital of Avaris (Tell ed-Daba),[[10]] but also the use of the chariot as a new military technology (cf. fig. 1.7). Chapter 2, ‘The System of Early Dynasty XVIII: Technological and Physical Constraints’ (pp. 32-45), devotes attention to travel routes and supplies needed for the campaign of Thutmoses III to Megiddo in Palestine. Chapter 3 takes us with the Egyptian army into its ‘Southern and Northern Expansion’ (pp. 46-69) -- that is into the Sudan and Asia and includes information on the speed of warships. ‘Social and Religious Implications of the New Military System’ (Chapter 4, pp. 70-82) shows how a professional army developed, with a new type of military officer and a chariot elite replacing naval commanders. Chapter 5, ‘The Battle of Megiddo and its Result’ (pp. 83-100), meticulously analyses the famous battle fought between Thutmoses III and the Canaanites,[[11]] whereas the shorter Chapter 6 compares how the pharaoh and his army camped on campaign by comparing this battle with the one fought at Kadesh in ‘The Pharaoh on Campaign: Ideal and Real’ (pp. 101-09). Chapter 7, ‘The Later Military Situation in Asia and at Home’ (pp. 110-29), looks at military activities in Asia and Kush up to the time of Thutmoses IV; some terms are analysed as well as weapons and visual depictions of chariots as on the reliefs on the chariot body (figs. 7.2-3). ‘Egyptian Imperialism and Thutmose III’ (Chapter 8, pp. 130-39) also looks at war booty. In Chapter 9, ‘Dynasty XVIII: Warfare and Economy’ (pp. 140-59), the rations needed for the army in the time of Amenhotep II are calculated. ‘The Amarna Letters and War’ (Chapter 10, pp. 160-68) shows how ‘risk-averse’ the pharaohs were. Chapter 11, ‘The Influence of the Egyptian Military from Late Dynasty XVIII to Dynasty XIX’, (pp. 169-86), further looks at the rise of the military at the end of dynasty 18 and the beginning of dynasty 19. In the twelfth chapter (pp. 187-208) we are immersed in the Ramesside period and in ‘Early Dynasty XIX’ Seti I and warfare and his campaigns against Asia and Libya as known from Karnak are studied. In ‘To Kadesh and After’ (pp. 209-34), Chapter 13 describes the most famous of battles, the one fought between Ramses the Great and the Hittites in ca. 1285 BCE, in great detail. The accounts of this battle are unique because of the sources at our disposal -- six textual accounts in two literary forms (the longer ‘poem’ and the shorter ‘bulletin’) and the equally valuable visual depictions. The final chapters look at Rameses II’s successors: ‘Merenptah and Rameses III’ (Chapter 14) and the fight of Rameses III against the ‘Sea Peoples’ (Chapter 15: ‘Egypt on the Defensive’, pp. 235-48). ‘The Social System of the Military in the Rameside Period’ (Chapter 16, pp. 249-63) looks at dynasty 20, when Egypt lost control of Asia, and the growth of the Libyan military class.

Spalinger’s book is no general overview or an introduction to warfare in Egypt covering all periods of Egyptian history, such as McDermott’s study. It is a sound and thorough ‘tour de force’ on military logistics, an important contribution not only to Egyptology, but to the study of ancient warfare and warfare in general, and therefore essential reading for all military historians. The way in which the author devotes attention to the minutest details with precise mathematical calculations can be illustrated by the discussion of the Egyptian army under Thutmoses III in the Aruna pass (pp. 87ff.). In spite of all the detail (exact times, e.g. travel speeds, food needed, amounts of troops, horses, etc.) the book is a joy to read. One can only hope that further detailed studies of certain aspects will appear soon (done by some students of the author mentioned in the book).[[12]]


[[1]] G. Steindorff and K. C. Seele, When Egypt Ruled the East (Chicago 1947).

[[2]] D.C. Snell (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Near East. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World (Oxford 2004), reviewed by I. Cornelius, Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 11.

[[3]] W. Wolf, The Bewaffnung des altägyptischen Heeres (Leipzig 1926).

[[4]] Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands (London 1963).

[[5]] I. Shaw, Egyptian Warfare and Weapons (Buckinghamshire 1991).

[[6]] R.B. Partridge, Fighting Pharaohs: Weapons and Warfare in Ancient Egypt (Manchester 2002).

[[7]] B. McDermott, Warfare in Ancient Egypt (Stroud 2004).

[[8]] J. Baines and J. Málek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt (Oxford 1984).

[[9]] E.S. Hall, The Pharaoh Smites His Enemies (Munich 1986).

[[10]] Now well known thanks to the work of the Austrian Manfred Bietak -- see inter alia the book Avaris: The Capital of the Hyksos (London 1996).

[[11]] Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley of Palestine is not only famous for this battle; in 609 BCE a battle was fought between king Josiah of Judah and pharaoh Necho of Egypt. In 1918 General Allenby defeated Turco-German forces at Megiddo. According to the Bible (Rev. 16:16), the ‘last battle’ will be fought at Armageddon (from the Hebrew har-Megiddo ‘mount Megiddo’).

[[12]] A matter which personally interests me is the way in which Syro-Palestinian deities such as Baal, Anat, Astarte and Reshep became popular in the New Kingdom, especially because they are quoted in the context of the war deeds of the pharaohs. Cf. I. Cornelius, The Iconography of the Canaanite Gods Reshef and Baal: Late Bronze and Iron Age I Periods (c 1500-1000 BCE) (Göttingen and Fribourg 1994) and The Many Faces of the Goddess. The Iconography of the Syro-Palestinian Goddesses Anat, Asherah, Astarte and Qedeshet c. 1500-1000 BCE (Göttingen and Fribourg 2004).